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What Can One Person Do To Help the Homeless?

by | Dec 11, 2019 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change

What can one person do to help the homeless?

At one level, it might seem one person cannot make much of a dent. The problems that lead to homelessness are many and complex. The “backstory” of why an individual person falls into homelessness is just as complex and often unknown.

At another level, you might be surprised by how much you can do with very simple actions. One such action occurred on the evening between the commemoration of Pearl Harbor and the celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Fifty thousand individuals around the world created a stir and raised significant money by sleeping out in the cold.

Simply sleeping can make significant difference.

What could be easier in advocating for a cause than sleeping? Even if it means sleeping outside in a safe environment in sub-freezing weather. Please do not confuse a “sleep out” with a group of teenagers “sleeping over” at a friend’s house.

Yet this simple act of sleeping has raised over 50 million dollars in various campaigns over the past decade. It has also been a “wake up” call to those who have participated (pun intended). Raising one’s own consciousness is worth much more than the millions it raised.

Sleeping out or “sleeping rough” for the homeless has a relatively long history in the Vincentian Family.
FamVin has been following this moment since its early days as a venture of the Society of St. Vincent DePaul in Australia.

Since its inception in 2006, the Vinnies CEO Sleepout has raised almost $36.5 million to fund Vinnies homeless services across Australia. This unique event enables CEO’s and business leaders to actively combat the issue of homelessness by experiencing a little of what it is like to sleep out themselves. The subsequent advocacy and fundraising efforts of participating CEOs, their businesses and the support of partners has been crucial to the success of the event.

In June 2019 (Australian Winter), they raised a record 7.9 million dollars to help break the cycle of homelessness and poverty in Australia. This money funds new projects and allows Vinnies to expand programs for people experiencing homelessness.

In our own backyard

On December 7th, a group of people slept out on a freezing cold night in the large courtyard of the Motherhouse property as part of the World’s Big SleepOut. For one night, they joined with xome 50,000 people to sleep out in unison to create the world’s largest display of solidarity and support of those experiencing homelessness and displacement. Our Sleep Out was certainly not of the magnitude of the 2,000 who joined the sleepout in Times Square New York or in places liked Trafalgar Square in London! But it did raise personal consciousness and funds.

While The World’s Big SleepOut involves spending a night in the cold, it is not about pretending to be homeless. It’s an act of solidarity – to give you a tiny insight into this reality, and to raise the funds and awareness needed to help people who have no other choice.

Danielle Ferrari, one of the participants put it this way…

“I committed to sleeping out in solidarity with the homeless last night to get a glimpse of what it is like even for a few hours to be left outside when everyone else has somewhere to go. It puts things in perspective and allows me to be grateful for that extra pair of socks I purchased before that night or the warm house and bed I was able to retreat to later that morning.
Now when I walk by those left on the streets I hope that I will not look the other way but instead, I hope to have just a little bit more compassion and empathy for how they must be feeling”

Here in Philadelphia 50% of the funds raised will go to Depaul USA – a local Vincentian Family program helping people affected by homelessness in Philadelphia and the other 50% will go to support children and families who are displaced internationally. At the time publication, these 15 people raised over $4,000 dollars with the total expected to break $5,000.

One person, with others, can do a lot they might not have thought they could do.

Experiencing Homelessness for one night.

  • Can I really imagine what being homeless might be like?
  • Would I be willing to spend one night in the safety of my own backyard to “wake up” to what it might be like?
  • Do you think it might affect your understanding of what it is like to be homeless?


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